While I would not want to see our free speech rights eroded and while I think that our First Amendment right to free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy I do not see why the U.S. Supreme Court felt it had to rule in favor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, whose members picket at or near military funerals with signs that proclaim such vile messages as “thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates the USA”.
An original story on the ruling:
I’m not at all sure what they really believe in, but apparently part of their twisted view of life is that God is punishing the U.S. for tolerating or accepting homosexuality. And as I understand it, they don’t just picket funerals of gay soldiers, although if they did that would not make it any better.
It has long been held that even free speech is not unlimited. One is not protected by the First Amendment for yelling fire in a crowded theatre (and I am not sure whether it makes a difference whether there really is a fire or not — but that’s not the point here).
I have not yet read what the justices actually wrote in their opinion, but I would think that someone who disturbs family members and others paying their last respects to a fallen soldier would be in violation of disturbing the peace at a bare minimum, along with violating the family’s right to privacy, as well as being liable for torts such as creating emotional distress.
ADD 1 (March 3, 2011): Okay I have now read, well at least scanned over, the court’s opinion and ruling. I have not changed my mind. I tend to agree with the lone dissenting justice, Samuel Alito, in this case (it was an 8-1 ruling). http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-751.ZD.html
And if the question is over the nation’s war policy (and I really don’t care what the Westboro Church thinks after their vile actions against dead soldiers and their families and friends), I don’t think anyone with any decency — no matter what their war views — would mock the dead or their families or root for the enemy.
Free speech rights present a tough issue for courts. You can’t just bar speech because you don’t agree with it or it makes you uncomfortable. But there is such a thing as human decency, and I think the Westboro Church has crossed the line and I think the high court was wrong on this one.
Here is a link to the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-751.pdf